Regardless of how any team finishes the prior year in college football, there are always going to be questions going into the following season. The Notre Dame program is no different, and while 2012 may have given Irish fans a lot to be excited about, a tumultuous off-season seems to have produced some unexpected questions, and ones that need answers quickly. There is a lot to be excited about for Irish fans in 2013, but definitely a laundry list of items that need to addressed before and throughout this year. We wanted to take a look at ten important questions that depending on their answers, can play a large part in Notre Dame’s success in 2013.
1.Is Tommy Rees really “the guy”? – Even though the Irish were pummeled in the BCS championship game, fans were excited to see what a year of growth and maturation could do for former quarterback Everett Golson in 2013. As every Notre Dame fan knows by now, that will not be happening, and Irish Nation is now faced with the very real possibility that senior quarterback Tommy Rees will line up behind center as the starter, at least for the beginning of 2013. The question is, and it’s a big one, can Tommy truly lead this team for a whole year and produce similar results as in 2012? The success of the 2013 Irish may hinge on the success of Tommy Rees, and at this point and time we are not sure if that is a good or bad thing.
2. Running Back by committee? – Is there another facet of this year’s Irish squad that is shrouded with the clouds of the unknown as much as the 2013 Notre Dame backfield? There is no dispute that there is talent at the running back position this year, but no one quite knows how it will all play out- even the coaching staff. As of now it is George Atkinson’s job to lose, but he has, at a minimum 3 guys who will be pushing him every week to take the title of starting tailback away. The Irish are trying to replace 1659 yards on the ground with the losses of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, and will be looking anywhere they can to find that type of production again in 2013.
3. No Te’o, Moore, or Motta – Oh my! This year’s Irish defensive unit is returning 8 of 11 starters, but lost a lot of leadership and experience to the NFL draft last year. While Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, and Prince Shembo remain the recognizable names on a talented roster, it will be incumbent on guys like Sheldon Day, Jarrett Grace, Dan Fox, and Bennett Jackson to step up and fill the void left by the previously Players. The Irish staff did a great job bringing in new blood in last year’s recruiting class, and seeing how much playing time guy’s like Jaylon Smith, Doug Randolph, Cole Luke, and Max Redfield will receive on the defensive side of the ball will be one of the early storylines for the 2013 Fighting Irish.
4.Can they fix special teams? –While everything seemed to go Notre Dame’s way in 2012, the one group that forgot to show up to the party were the special teams, namely the kick and punt return teams. Ranking at or close to the bottom of many categories, Irish fans hope that Brian Kelly was being truthful when he said that special teams development would an area of focus during spring and fall practice. The truth is that the numbers cannot be any worse than fans witnessed last year, but that doesn’t guarantee that they will be any better.
5. Who is Tommy throwing to? Without a question, Davaris Daniels and T.J. Jones will listed one and two on the depth chart, but the big question is who is going to step up and fill out the rest of said chart. There is group of people that will be given the chance to do just that, which includes the likes of Chris Brown, Daniel Smith, Corey Robinson, C.J. Prosise, and a handful of others. Make no mistake, there is talent here in this group, but the big question is how quickly can it produce on the field for the Irish?
6. Will Sheldon Day solidify the left end position? – The sophomore from Indianapolis had 23 tackles(3.5 for loss) and 2 sacks in his first year with the Irish, and had fans and the coaching staff excited about what this young man is capable of. Day is excellent when it comes to stopping the run, but needs to work on getting pressure on the quarterback more consistently. It should help tremendously having Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix on the same line providing support, and if Day performs like many think he can, the Irish defensive line should be among the elite in all of college football.
7. Is Troy Niklas the next great Irish tight end? 50 receptions, 685 yards, and 4 touchdowns – those were the final 2012 stats for former Irish tight end and safety valve, Tyler Eifert. Now that he is catching passes for the Bengals, the Irish offense needs to not only replace those numbers, but the consistent threat that Eifert brought each and every weekend. Niklas certainly has the frame, checking in at 6’7” 270lbs, but does he have the ability to constantly be a threat in the red zone, and a “go to” guy on third down and long? Niklas showed signs in 2012 that the athletic ability is there to do just that, but now will be required to show it on a weekly basis.
8. Is the secondary no longer a concern? The Irish secondary injuries in 2012 were well documented, but even with a long list of casualties, the Irish secondary still held their own last year. So it would seem they are poised be a true strength in 2013, as they now have a healthy Lo Wood, and KeiVarae Russell, and Austin Collinsworth back. If you also consider the fact that they return Mathias Farley, Elijah Shumate, and Bennett Jackson, one would think that the Irish secondary is ready to become a true strength in 2013 – as long as they stay healthy of course.
9. Is Malik Zaire ready to go if needed? A highly touted recruit out of Kettering, Ohio, Zaire has been compared to of all people, Everett Golson – but a left handed version. In his senior year in high school, Zaire threw for 1990 yards, ran for another 1120, and accounted for 33 touchdowns. If you have watched any film on the young man, then you know that he has good vision, a nice release, and possesses the ability to run if needed, but needs to work on his accuracy a bit. Zaire was an early enrollee, so that may help in his development early on, but will it be enough for Kelly to call on him early if needed?
10. Are the Irish ready for the next level? The Irish are an extremely talented bunch and absolutely have the ability to have a successful season. The question is are they talented, experienced, and deep enough to play at the level that they witnessed their opponent playing at in last year’s BCS Championship game? Now the big question for 2013 is can Notre Dame shorten the gap that was so evident last year in Miami, both mentally and physically? Brian Kelly has gone on record stating that he is building the Notre Dame program in the same mold in which Nick Saban did down in Tuscaloosa, but is 2013 the year that the Irish end the SEC reign in the national title game? – We will know by January 6th of 2014.
These are just some of the questions that a large contingency of Irish fans have on their mind as we enter the 2013 season. The Irish have just started fall practice in Marian, IN a couple of days ago, and some of these questions will start to be addressed, but we will not know the full answers until late September, to mid-October. Most would agree that the 2013 Irish are primed to have a good year, but how good is all dependant on the answers to the questions listed above, and we are sure more will arise before the Irish hit the field on August 31st, against Temple.